Unsung peacemakers

There are peacemakers and peacemakers. In the best of worlds, recent unsung visitors to our office would get headlines no less than this week's "Hundreds Arrested Protesting Nuclear Weaponry" or last week's "Nuclear Freeze Backer, 17, Takes Message to Reagan." These visitors -- a group of Israelis and a group of Arabs within days of each other -- were focusing on the Mideastern part of the peace puzzle. But their persistence, their outreach, their willingness to think beyond old formulas and ancient enmities -- such qualities speak to a broader peace. When these prevail they leave weapons, and weapons protesters, with nothing to do.

The visiting Israelis cited a growing minority of fellow citizens ready to take various steps for peace, including dialogue with Palestinians and opposition to some Israeli government policies. While in the United States they were trying to persuade American Jews to support this peace movement. One proposed means was to consider the effects on Israeli policy of giving or withholding financial contributions to Israel.

The Arab visitors, too, representing a US-based organization, stressed efforts to enlist their own American community in a drive for peace including Arab-Jewish dialogue. They, too, stressed the key role of the United States in helping or hindering peace in the Middle East. They went on to offer a peace plan of such breathtaking unorthodoxy as to draw immediate questions of realism, workability, all the usual considerations of practical diplomacy.

Yet more reasonable plans have not resolved the situation -- again, some would argue, because of US policies as well as the adversaries' set positions. Perhaps a few radically optimistic plans have to be in the air in order to get progress toward a halfway optimistic result.

Here's what our Arab visitors would do:

* Reduce the level of armaments in the Middle East a follows. Eliminate US military aid to Arab countries. Thus they would be less of a threat to Israel, and US military aid to Israel could be eliminated. Thus Israel would be less of a threat to Arab countries, and they could eliminate Soviet military aid.

* In the ensuing atmosphere of lowered threat, establish not two states -- one Jewish and the other Palestinian -- but a single state open to all, Jews, Arabs, and Christians. It would be no religious conditions on political office or participation. The government would be based on one-person, one-vote elections. For "psychological reasons" the new state would be called both Israel and Palestine.

Yes, that's what we said, one state with two names. It seems more like Arabian nights than Arabs today. Also, but for that name twist, a single secular state sounds like Palestinian solutions lofted long ago.

What makes you think the Israelis would go along? What makes you think the PLO would go along? What makes you think a Reagan administration would go along?

The Arab visitors have heard the questions before. They talk about Yugoslavia , which was turned into one country embracing several peoples. They talk, with a smile, about the states of the United States, which did not always live in borderless harmony.

Yet everybody knows the plan doesn't have a change in the Middle East. Doesn't everybody? It certainly does not sound realistic. But could it prompt somebody to come up with a better one? Could it produce dialogue that in itself brings peace a little closer? Maybe yes. But not if peacemakers have to go into the streets or be 17 and lobby the US President in order to reach the headlines.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.